By: Nancy Silver Cochran
I am a child of the '60s, with all the images that implies. Beyond that, I am a Jew. People today want to be known for how they stand out, not how they fit in; yet, my individuality cannot be separated from the ethnic background which gave it birth.
I grew up in a Conservative Jewish home in Seattle. I attended Hebrew school three times a week; I learned the Hebrew alphabet, the rudiments of the language, and studied Jewish history and traditions. I read Bible stories which related to our holidays, but there was little talk of God and no systematic study of the Bible.
My parents didn't believe in God, yet Jewishness was extremely important to them. They felt we needed to band together to counter effect the Holocaust. My mother was especially adamant that we not assimilate into gentile American culture. Our collective responsibility was to maintain Jewish identity so that the millions Hitler murdered would not have died in vain.
Like my parents, I did not believe in God. I did well in my Hebrew studies simply because I enjoyed excelling. By the time I reached high school, I believed that science could and would eventually explain all the mysteries of the universe. I felt only the ignorant needed God.
I began to resent the hypocrisy I saw in my parents. They expected me to practice a religion whose God they denied. I did not understand how Judaism could be a religion if it was not founded on faith. I questioned one of my Hebrew school teachers--a young Israeli who had fought in the Arab-Israeli Wars. "If anyone has answers, he does," I reasoned.
I asked him about Jewish belief on the afterlife. He explained that some Jews believe in heaven and others believe that there is nothing at all after death. I found this upsetting, not because I wanted something to believe, but because it seemed to confirm my suspicion that we had a religion void of faith.
Added to this was the requirement by my parents that I would date only other Jews. I was not expected to live by faith, yet I was expected to abide by such restrictions in the name of Judaism. We argued and I rebelled by rejecting the religion of Judaism.
In keeping with my rebellion, I became infatuated with the beatnik movement. I dressed in black, grew my hair past my waist and vowed that when I graduated from high school, I would hitchhike to Greenwich Village in New York City and become a beatnik. By the time I finished high school, "beatniks" had been replaced by "hippies," so I became one of those instead.
I attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon, for a year and a half, but drugs soon became more important to me than studies. All my life people had told me I would go to college, but I had no personal commitment or goals to keep me there, so I followed Timothy Leary's advice to "turn on, tune in and drop out." My boyfriend and I moved to Haight-Ashbury inn San Francisco and became "flower children."
Despite the destructive nature of drugs, they were responsible for one significant change in my attitude. I could no longer deny the reality of the spiritual world. I came face to face with it through taking LSD. This dark side of the spiritual realm convinced me that we are more than a physical body. My drug use led me to Eastern religion and I studied Tantric Buddhism.
Tantric Buddhism, an occult form of Eastern mysticism, teaches "cosmic consciousness." According to this teaching, God is an impersonal life-force which pervades the universe and with which a person can merge upon death--if he has meditated and practiced his yoga sufficiently. Also reincarnation is accepted, which is very reassuring, for it means that even those who do not practice yoga and meditate sufficiently will have another chance. You know, "if at first you don't succeed...."
After a year of buying into this philosophy, I told my boyfriend I was bored. I didn't want to lie around stoned all the time. I had always been an excellent student, and couldn't be satisfied unless my mind was being challenged. We decided to move back up to Oregon, get married and both go back to school. He would become an ecologist, and I would create the perfect wonder drug which would cause all members of the human race to love one another.
You see, LSD causes more than hallucinations. It can make the user feel as if he loves everyone--not in a sexual sense, but in a very "mellow" and accepting way. However, its effects are temporary, so when the drug wears off, the love disappears. I wanted to create a drug which would make people love each other permanently. I'd thus end all threat of war. Well, at least it made sense to me at the time.
Once I returned to school, I quickly realized that this was an impossible dream. Even in the highly unlikely event that I could create such a drug, it would only be effective if everyone in the world would take it.
I gave up on my wonder drug. Instead, I got a degree in biology from the University of Oregon, and went on to Cornell University to study neurobiology on a National Science Foundation fellowship. I was pursuing a doctorate on "the biological basis of the psychedelic experience," and intended to demonstrate the value of drug induced altered states of consciousness.
My lifestyle continued to reflect the motto of the times, "If it feels good and doesn't hurt anyone else, do it." As long as my actions were not harming anyone, I considered myself an "alright" person.
In 1973 I met an older woman named Evelyn, a technician in my lab at the Veterinary College. The Yom Kippur War had just begun, and Evelyn was "thrilled," for she was a Christian and saw this as Bible prophecy being fulfilled. She wanted to share her enthusiasm with everyone she met, particularly me. Since I was Jewish she thought I'd be especially interested.
I was interested, but only because I viewed prophecy as an expression of the occult, and all such expressions fascinated me. Moreover, Tantric Buddhism is a very open religion which teaches that many paths lead to the same oneness with God. I felt Evelyn and I were on different paths, each headed for oneness with cosmic consciousness.
Evelyn saw things differently, but did not argue with me. She simply gave me a copy of the New Testament. I had to spend that summer in the southeast Texas woods, so I took the book with me to be polite. However, my intended reading was a boxful of science fiction novels.
Few places on earth are quite so miserable and isolated as the southeast Texas woods. My husband was there to study the ecology of the swampland, which was ridden with poisonous snakes among the slimy assortment of flora and fauna. We had a one and a half year old child and I felt we couldn't even set foot outside the door of the house.
I quickly devoured my novels, which left me with plenty of time to think. I spent much of it reflecting on my marriage, and decided my husband was directing his life on a path that I did not want to follow. I wanted out; in fact, I purposed in my heart that when we returned to Cornell, I would begin looking for someone new. Having made that decision, I was eager for a distraction, anything to get my mind off my situation. But I had read through all my novels, and there was no place to buy more. Desperate for something to relieve the boredom, I turned to the Bible.
I picked up that book sincerely believing that Evelyn and I were heading in the same direction. Yet, as I read the Bible, I became convinced that it was not simply the words of men, but that it was truly the word of God. I can't explain how I was convinced, but I believe God gave me eyes to see it. I had read many, many books and had never before experienced such certainty that God was speaking to me.
I concluded that Evelyn and I were not headed for the same place. We could not be, if Jesus was right when he claimed, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me" (John 14:6). I was amazed to realize that I did not doubt that Jesus was the only way to salvation and the knowledge of God.
Some people claim they have done such despicable things that God could never forgive them. Their attitude that God cannot accept them becomes an excuse for them not to accept him. I had the opposite problem--I did not consider myself a sinner at all; I was living consistently with my own principles.
However, in the next several months all that changed. True to my Texas swampland decision, I began looking for someone new as soon as we returned to Cornell. As far as I was concerned, my marriage was over, but I would not pursue divorce until I felt secure in the knowledge that I would not be "left out in the cold." Several of us bought a house and lived together communally for about a year. In the midst of it all, I became pregnant.
I felt I had no choice but to have an abortion. I already had one child, my marriage was ending and, at that time, my graduate career was the most important thing in my life. I could not continue my studies and raise another child.
I had finally come to realize I was a sinner. I couldn't even claim to be living consistently with my own principles. I still believed Jesus was the Messiah; now I knew I desperately needed the salvation he offered.
I tried to make a deal with God: I told him I would ask Jesus into my life as soon as the abortion was over. I wanted to get the abortion out of the way first because I knew it was wrong and that once I committed my life to God, I would not be able to go through with it. The result was spiritual chaos.
I tried to commit my life to God right after the abortion. But the mildly hallucinogenic drug prescribed for the aftereffects of the operation combined with my usual marijuana set me up for something else. I tried to open my heart to God and found myself open instead to an evil spiritual force--it was a terrifying experience.
I tried again the next night, with the same nightmarish results. I concluded that God had rejected my efforts and abandoned me to this hellish ordeal. That being the case, I decided that if I meant so little to him, I would forget the whole thing.
One day God showed me very graphically where my life was heading. I pictured myself on a bus, riding away from God. I saw that we were on two different routes which had once come close enough to almost touch, but which were now diverging. Each day would carry me further from him. If I continued, I would soon be so far from an awareness of God that I would have no hope of ever knowing him.
This separation from God terrified me, but I didn't know how to reverse it. Eastern mysticism teaches that union with God depends on how hard we work--how well we master meditation and yoga techniques. And being Jewish had always been a matter of ethnic loyalty and maintaining one's heritage. Neither Judaism nor Buddhism had taught me to talk to God. Now that I wanted to devote myself to him, I didn't know how.
In desperation, I sought help from a man in the Veterinary College whom I knew to be a Christian. I believed Jesus was the Messiah, but did not know how to make him my Messiah. This man explained how to accept God's forgiveness through Jesus, and what it meant to commit my life to God. He prayed with me, right there in the Veterinary College of Cornell University, and I began a new life with the Lord.
One of the first things I discovered is that only God can enable people to really love one another. For "God is love" (I John 4:8). Unlike the "miracle" love drug I could not create, the change of heart that God creates through the Messiah lasts forever.
I also discovered my Jewish identity. When I accepted Jesus as my Messiah, I acknowledged him as the Messiah of Israel, foretold in Hebrew Scriptures. That motivated me to explore the Jewish Bible in earnest, and the Jewish heritage which I had once tossed aside burst into new life. Now each time my family celebrates the Jewish holidays--Passover, Succoth, Purim, Hanukkah, and the High Holy Days--I understand their meaning. I can hardly believe I once turned my back on those beautiful expressions of God's love and concern for his people.
Most importantly, I discovered that God was not only able to meet my felt needs, but those needs I didn't know I had, like a need for forgiveness. God had made that provision in Y'shua (Jesus). "But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us" (Romans 5:8).
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